As media is able to influence the public by great means, the theory of sisterhood and intersectionality is vastly portrayed in cinematography. Research on intersectionality in media and pop culture centers around the different ways of identity such as gender, sex, race, and class interaction to shape media portrayals. Sisterhood is the coming together of women despite their differences. Intersectionality refers to the combination of two or more forms of discrimination that are delivered in a complex manner. Media portrayals of intersectionality and sisterhood in media, specifically film, is one sided and is in dire need of reform.
In the chapter Sisterhood, Coalition, and the Politics of Experience, from the book Feminism Without Borders, in Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Professor Chandra Talpade Mohanty decifers universal sisterhood that is used by Political Theorist and Activist, Robin Morgan. Sisterhood defined by Morgan is …specific assumptions about women as a cross-culturally singular, homogeneous group with the same interests, perspectives, and goals and similar experiences (Mohanty).
Mohanty criticizes Morgan’s theory because it pushes all women into a singular categorization scheme and assumes the same struggles between both black and white women, which Mohanty believes to only widen the gap between women.
In Hollywood, there has been a mass production of films and television shows that use sisterhood as a major theme. Formally, Sisterhood can be defined as the union of a group of women that share the same ideals and experiences, which is a highly used concept. However, instead of uniting women who have the same beliefs or background history, Hollywood shows the pattern of oppressive victimization in women.
There are many movies that depict sisterhood as being a prominent theme in Hollywood, described as classic movies or shows about sisterhood and friendship. One movie that is particularly regarded as being a sisterhood feminist movie is Mean Girls. The film is applauded for teaching females that they should have eachothers backs but, one this that is missing are women of color; yes, many girls may fall out of the white category but they pass for white. The film assumes that white women face the same struggles as women of color, there is no race or inequality issues in the film, but it instead portrays the idea of women being supportive of each other to achieve their goals.
In Mean Girls, the main character Cady, becomes obsessed with becoming the most popular girl in school and plans on dethroning Regina George by attacking her specifically, making her gain weight, stealing her boyfriend and friends. A major theme in the film is slut-shaming, and as mentioned in the film the idea that there has to be a sisterhood in order to fight back against the patriarchy (Grimaldo). The film highlights women being competitive among each other, and how fighting each other is not the solution. I believe that putting women against each other is unnecessary and they need to forget the idea that woman should inherently be enemies, which Mean Girls does capture. But, the film fails to depict inclusiveness, and does not show how white womens oppression differs from women of colors.
As Hollywood continues to focus on sisterhood in terms of the white women, the failure to include women of color furthers the idea that the only oppression women face is the patriarchy. The patriarchy refers to a notion of male dominance with a intention that women be accessories to men. The idea that the patriarchy is big threat to women is because white supremacy is not discussed within the context of sisterhood. In the article The Subject of Freedom, Saba Mahmood describes her experience with the Western conception of oppression as being an Islamic woman. Mahmood argues the Islamic embracement of culture is by making space for themselves in a society where males are superior. In Islamic culture, the issue is mainly imperialism and not patriarchy, which western feminist criticize (Grimaldo). Mahmoods experience shows that patriarchy is not the only oppressive issue women face as depicted in movies or television shows.
In a web-series known as Brown Girls, the depiction of a more inclusive sisterhood is given off to its viewers. The main characters are Lelia, a Pakistani- American, and Patricia, a black woman. The show has been praised as being revolutionary because its main characters are women of color, one being specifically a queer woman of color. The web-cast touches upon the intricacies of young woman and cultural boundaries with Leila being a Pakistani- American and also being queer. There is little competition among women when Leila is confronted by both her ex-girlfriend and her new girlfriend at a party, but it is not stemmed from patriarchal oppression, but because of her personal life (Grimaldo). The show depicts an argument that bell hooks states in Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women, that both women of color and white women need to have conversations in order to come together (hooks). Brown Girls gives a good example of acknowledging the differences between race and class among women.
Although using the term sisterhood has caught the attention of many and has become a popular theme, there is one patriarchal dominance that controls everything; Hollywood. Hollywood pushes all women into one shared oppression, which helped them to accomplish their sisterhood storylines. One television show that has pushed back on this idea is Orange is the New Black.
As shown in the previous example Mean Girls, it was based on a white sisterhood and takes place in a middle/upper middle class setting. Orange is the New Black challenges multiple aspects of the typically portrayed Hollywood sisterhood. The show depicts the different struggles of prisonerfs regardless of their skin, social class, privilege, etc. which also attacks what bell hooks stated in Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women Women are divided by sexist attitudes, racism, class privilege, and a host of other prejudices (hooks). In the show, diversity of race is apparent but diversity in class, in which the inmates were apart of. The inmate who are white and raise with money and the actions that got them convicted differed from what the other inmates did to put them in prison, which pushed back the idea that all women share the same oppression (Martinez). Each womens oppression varies, it cannot be contained into one jail cell and it is also shown that they do not share the same pain.
The main character Piper Chapman, has a college education and was raised as rich coming from a nice home, but she is seen as spoiled girl whose actions led to her incarceration. She committed a crime after looking for an adventure and meeting her then ex-girlfriend Alex. Compared to other inmates, Piper has privilege because she can get a good lawyer. Many of the other inmates ended up in prison because of desperation (Martinez). A Latina inmate, Gloria Mendoza, who is of lower class ended in prison because of food stamps fraud. Another inmate Taystee ended up in prison because she got involved with a drug dealer to get out of foster care.
Orange is the New Black (OITNB) is focused on women, but the idea of sisterhood is never portrayed. Piper is always alone and has no sisters, she is considered different because of her background and does not fit in with the other inmates (Martinez). There are another group of women who seem to have a sisterhood but as the storyline continues, we see that it is a mother- daughter relationship. The Latina girls are also seen as having a sisterhood but they all have their own oppression, and OITNB makes sure the audience sees that everyone is different. OITNB does not not embrace the idea of sisterhood, it instead demonstrates that there is no such thing as shared oppression. Each inmate is seen as looking out for themselves not like in the other examples mentioned previously. In Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women hooks states that, The idea of common oppression was a false and corrupt platform disguising and mystifying the true nature of womens varied and complex social reality (hooks). Hollywood fails to realize that womens culture or religion might have a factor in womens oppression.
Although in television and film there is a lack of portrayal of women of color, it affects the audience as well. From Shannon Miller, a self proclaimed feminist experience, she states that she personally does not feel only oppressed by the patriarchy and misogyny, but also erasure, misogynoir, white supremacy, anti-blackness, fatphobia along with feeling ignored, devalued and underestimated by anyone other than women of color. When going to the movies, Miller describes that she always keeps her blackness and womanhood within herself. She states that movies are almost always geared toward all women, when in fact they relate more with white women, she describes it as while they can conveniently sideline intersectionality for the sake of a finished product, I cant sideline mine(Miller). It is impossible for women of color to strip their skin when entering a movie theater, to enjoy movies who treat their identities as a prop. They cannot forget about their backgrounds and cultures to embrace historical films that erases the accomplishments of any women who are not white.
Intersectionality, as stated in Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Collins, refers to multiple forms of interlocking oppressions.Collins specifically writes about how women have many standpoints they have on the world. It is important for women to keep the mindset of intersectionality. Intersectionality in media focuses on various issues such as gender, race and class to shape media representations (Collins). The main thing that intersectionality states is that there is not just one type of view, and that all womens experiences are different based on their backgrounds. Becca Cragin, a professor, demonstrates that intersectionality is the best approach to understanding cultural meanings as shown in talk shows. Many feminist scholars have stated that talk shows are feminist conscious- raising groups, that provide an outlet for women to speak about their issues, lives, and struggles (Freeland). I disagree on this statement because many guest are chosen based on their level of entertainment, rather than being a platform for women to speak.
Talk shows such as Jerry Springer, Oprah Winfrey (although ended) and Maury Povich have changed the dynamic of their shows throughout the years, slowly incorporating spectacles out of sexually, racially and economically marginalized guests. The shows transitioned from being informative to being all about entertainment, and have started to include extreme, and at times even bizarre images of gays and lesbians, framed through a carnivalesque address, which reinforce[s] stereotypes of queers as freaks (qtd. Freeland). The reactions that these representation get are based on the guests sexuality, class, and race, and should require an intersectional approach to understand the talk shows.
Actresses in Hollywood are also embracing intersectionality more. Actress Ashley Judd popularized intersectionality at the 2018 Oscar award ceremony. Judd described it as complicated and weighty meaning notes (Kornhaber) on how black women and other minorities are now fighting back through social and economic power. Recognizing intersectionality in Hollywood, will shift rhetoric and business practices. Despite the signs that intersectionality is more present in Hollywood, it is also viewed as being aesthetically pleasing which causes its meaning to be more limited/predictable.
At the 2018 Oscars, Andra Day and Common performed their song Stand Up for Something, and while they were performing lights were shone on Feminist Activists which debuted a progressive coalition, with shared ideas about equity and collective duty. Another musical performance from The Greatest Showman gave an uplifting song about believing and being proud of yourself no matter what.
Unlike music, films can go into more depth when telling a story. Comedic actor, Kumail Nanjiani said some of my favorite movies are movies by straight white dudes, about straight white dudes, ( Kornhaber) and now with the impact of intersectionality, now Nanjiani being a pakistani man, can have more people relating to him; such as being a person of color and a minority. While accepting her award for Best Actress, Frances McDorman gave a speech about inclusion riders, which a policy that requires productions to maintain a specific standard of representation. During her speech, she asked all the other nominees to stand up. She critiqued Hollywood and how the women appeared to be. She started talking about herself and how each of the actresses are different to create a impactful and bigger argument (Kornhaber).
The suppression of any inclusive sisterhood movement is because the lack of media portrayal of women of color. Although there are a few shows such as Brown Girls, this representation is not enough to help women unite as one. White women fail to recognize how they affect women of color and continue to exclude women of color until it suits their goals. There has to be mutual recognition of all women’s struggles in attempt to unify their goals and conquer each struggle one by one. Sisterhood cannot just focus on uniting against the patriarchy but also white supremacy, imperialism and other sources of oppression in countries with heavy Western ideology. Intersectionality is something that is now becoming more popularized in media because of public figures. Now with increase in films with people of color getting nominated for awards has opened the eyes of many but it is still not enough.